In a tight workspace with barely enough room to turn around, light rail operators enjoy some of the most unusual views of Seattle from their cabs as they traverse the city.

Like all Link operators, Kevin Gumke started out driving for King County Metro Transit, before transferring over to the light rail side in 2010. To qualify, bus drivers must have a squeaky-clean driving record and complete 8 weeks of paid training, starting with a week of classroom instruction.

“It’s actually pretty easy,” Gumke said about operating a light rail vehicle. He contributes his experience driving a trolley route, at a time before trolleys could briefly travel under battery power, as good preparation for operating a light rail vehicle.

Gumke began working at Sound Transit shortly after trains began running to the airport and today is charged with training the next generation of light rail operators as the system expands. After construction, link extensions go through an extensive testing and inspection period. Maximum speeds will be set for each section of track, with practice runs repeated over and over to ensure safety in various weather conditions. Tracks are then continuously monitored and inspected once the extension opens for normal use.

Every night, all the light rail trains return to the Operations and Maintenance Facility where trains are inspected and cleaned. The 25-acre site, located south of downtown Seattle at South Forest Street and Airport Way, can store up to 104 vehicles. In case of breakdowns or malfunctions, workers have a train ready to go on short notice.

Nine vehicle bays stretch across the cavernous maintenance shop. Each bay can hold two light rail vehicles. Along with repair shops for components and electronics, the four-story operations and maintenance building also contains a signals and communications lab and a communications maintenance area.

Each train contains two control cabs on both ends, so that trains at terminus stations do not have to turn around. And every train pulls its own weight with the two motor trucks it carries.

It was the medical benefits that first brought Gumke to Metro after being self-employed for years as a professional photographer. He stayed at Metro because he liked being part of something he called “so unusual.”

Gumke drove trolleys out of the Atlantic base before becoming a light rail operator. “When I walked onto the property here, I had this gut feeling this is where I was going to be.”

As Gumke trains new light rail operators, he reminds them it’s all about giving the passengers the smoothest ride. “Think about your grandmother holding your baby in back,” he advises trainees to imagine each time they bring the light rail train to a smooth and complete stop.

20 Replies to “A Job With A View”

  1. Kevin, By the time you signed on with Metro, I think the Bredas had all gone up to the streets. Any joint-use time on the hybrids?

    Because in the 1990’s a few years after the Tunnel opened, Metro had construction drawings for wiring the ramp out of IDS onto I-90, down to Rainier at Dearborn, and all the way south on the wire.

    Making the Route 7 a completely electric Tunnel route all the way out Rainier and up to Prentice. Thinking back, as long as the DSTT was joint-use, we would have had service out Rainier that would’ve been an partner for LINK.

    I always thought it would be $12 million well-spent. I loved the 7, and would’ve picked the resulting run the rest of my time at Metro. Any thoughts?

    Mark Dublin, ’til 1995, Operator 2495

  2. Though, now that I think of it, could never have done joint-use, because the LINK cars run a lot heavier voltage than any trolleybus.

    On Market Street in San Francisco, PCC and other museum streetcars share positive wire. But also same voltage. Still and all:

    First one, 550 and 41 both before they leave Tunnel, and afterwards on Third? And second one, Jackson to Rainier to I-90 to Ellensburg.

    And think of cabin crew for all of the other language groups around Seattle! Predict massive ridership increase.


      1. Thanks, Barman, but not sure I could match the editing here. From what I know about everything tending toward social media now (note I said “toward” not “part of”) what ends up on the digital version of the cutting room floor is best described by (lightning, thunder, wolf howl, funeral music and really really bad Austrian accent…”There are some things that mankind was never meant to…..”

        (Actually, since it’s about to be Halloween, Bela Lugosi came from same part of Transylvania as the character he played. Who was actually more horrible than a vampire, but in the Balkans in those days, that was just street cred, and highly valued by the electorate. Rethinking my prejudice that our politicians don’t read history.

        But by now everybody already knows those things but has to get up for work anyhow. Think Hilary Clinton might’ve won by more votes if she hadn’t misspoken herself. Things edited out of comments and right wing political figures who wear hairy blue-green sweaters that don’t match their earrings come in buckets, not baskets.


  3. More like this!

    I’d love to hear more stories about operators, maintenance, mechanics, and other ST/Metro employees. I’d really like to know everything all works. Great photos, what do all those buttons do?

    1. Yes! More “how things work” coverage like this post about our transit operations and infrastructure would be welcome.

    2. Thanks for this. I think articles talking about the driver experience help me be a better transit user. For example, that last pic. Gives me an indication what the driver sees while the doors are open at the stop. I wonder how far he can see back, it might lead me to make different choices should I make a run for the last door of the last car.

    3. barman, one feature worth special attention. Note the handle in the driver’s left hand. This is the Controller, standard railcar counterpart of accelerator and brake pedal. Forward, accelerate. Pull back, braking. PCC streetcar had pedals instead- but I think whole industry is controller now.

      Everything rail-related in the world has a feature called “The Dead Man” built into the controls, either a foot pedal or, as with ours, a spring loaded mechanism in the control handle that the driver must hold down whenever the car is in motion.

      Name self-explanatory. A railcar will roll a lot way if something permanent happens to the driver while the train is in motion. So critical to be sure that when the driver lets go the controls, the train immediately stops automatically.


  4. Thank you for posting this story!

    Got one question, though – does every train really return to the OMF each night? I thought one was stored at each terminal station overnight?

  5. Thanks for this. I think articles talking about the driver experience help me be a better transit user. For example, that last pic. Gives me an indication what the driver sees while the doors are open at the stop. I wonder how far he can see back, it might lead me to make different choices should I make a run for the last door of the last car.

    1. Baselle, with present level of operations on both trains and buses, and especially trains, best to wait for the next one. Because train driver absolutely has to keep dwell-time- amount of time stopped at any station platform-to an absolute minimum.

      Not just because schedule time is tight, but also because a car stopped for any reason will slow everything on the track behind it. Have been told that train drivers still draw reprimands from their “Chiefs” for not being considerate and waiting for “runners.” Reprimand should go the other way.

      LINK is not Your Grandfather’s Bus Stuck In Traffic On Third Avenue.


      1. heh heh, Mark – I’m sure my grandfather’s bus was stuck in traffic on Third Avenue more than once, before he moved off the streets and into administration. Yes, he likely waited for runners! I think he passed away before you began your Metro career though, although maybe not by much.

        At any rate, I too enjoy seeing “how things work” and the view from the operator’s perspective. Mark, you’ve added a lot about that, as have some others, Brian Bundridge from the heavy rail perspective, and now a great article like this one. Well done, Lizz and STB, and thanks, Mr. Gumke! Keep up the good work!

    2. Understand completely. In my case, ‘run’ is quick stroll between second car or third car. Someday between third car and fourth car.

  6. Well this was interesting.

    It also brings up a question I’ve been wondering, are the driver pools for Sound Transit and Metro separate or comingled? I’ve sort of assumed the former since I’ve seen metro buses/staff running ST routes, but when it comes down to it I don’t know for sure, that could have been a fluke.

    1. However, Ness, all operating crew in King County are Metro Transit employees, and either switch, or be switched, between rail and bus sides. Pierce drivers run the ST 594’s and 574’s out of Tacoma. Remind me- same for CT and the 512’s?


  7. Separate, and to a very counterproductive degree. Ever since joint operations started,drivers of the separate divisions hardly ever get to talk with each other at all, either on duty or before or after work.

    Same exactly as with the signals and communications designed to let service coordinate and run smoothly.

    Because the handling of each type of vehicle is so much different- a train cannot steer a fraction of an inch around an obstacle- it’s best that operators stay on either rail or bus for a fairly long time.

    But the DSTT doubtless would have saved a fortune in operating time if these two groups of drivers, whose success depended on coordination with each other, had been trained together for joint operations, and both enabled and encouraged to think as members of the same team.

    If the 550 and the 41 get to stay in the Tunnel a few years more, since there’ll also be more trains, major upgrade in joint ops will be, long overdue, absolutely necessary. But I really wonder if the System’s balance sheet has a column for the time preventably lost over matters like this.

    I’ve said it before: Would call the ink color “Feedlot Floor Brown.”


  8. Oh my gosh, Kevin took our wedding photos! I had no idea he became a Metro/ST operator. So great to see him after all these years! ?

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